Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mommies need appraisals too!

This weekend I caught up with a few of my ex-colleagues from one of the companies I had worked for in my corporate avatar, back before I gave it all up to be chief slave to the little tyrant who now rules my home (and my life ) with an iron fist. This particular group of colleagues had also grown to be good friends over the years but it had been a while since all of us had got a chance to meet and I was looking forward to catching up with them. I was therefore a little surprised when my initial excitement at seeing them all together was returned with wan smiles and terse ‘hellos’.

“We had our year-end appraisals today” they explained morosely “And now we need a stiff drink each to forget them quickly!”

It turned out that three out of the four friends I was meeting had been given a rather rough time during the appraisal by their immediate bosses and the fourth friend’s appraisal had been, in his own words, ‘too confusing to make any sense of’ and he had left the meeting with more than his fair share of existential angst!
“You’re so lucky you don’t have to go through these corporate feedback sessions anymore!” one of my friends exclaimed as we reminisced about one joint appraisal we had gone through years ago, when we were still mere rookies in the corporate world. I laughed in response and the moment was drowned in a fresh round of minty Caprioskas brought to the table, but the words came back to me hours later when I was back at home, ensconced in my daughter’s room as we built large teetering towers with blocks and shaped little red butterflies with blue dots out of Playdoh.

True I didn’t have any formal feedback sessions anymore, ever since I had swapped my demanding corporate job for my even more demanding role of mommy, but sometimes I felt I sure as hell needed them as much if not more than before!

Motherhood brings with it a barrage of advice and feedback, and it starts even before the star of the show, the baby, makes its first appearance. Right from the moment you break the ‘good news’, or, if you’re the reserved kind, from the moment the bump begins to show, everyone from your vegetable vendor to complete strangers you run into in the parking lot, consider it their moral obligation to offer nuggets of advice and wisdom. When the baby does arrive, the stream of advice flowing in multiplies manifold and swells incessantly until you’re ready to throw in the oars and make a mad swim for it. Most of the advice is well meaning and can even be helpful of course, but the sheer overload of information coming in can often be overwhelming for an unprepared first time mother. Over time you get used to it and you even begin to discern the good advice from the unnecessary stuff, but one thing remains constant: your new found status as mom ensures that the advice keeps flowing in thick and fast at every stage of your child’s growth.

Given that parenting is one role that doesn’t come with an instruction manual, I’ve often felt that sometimes it might help to get objective feedback on probably what is the most important role I will ever play in my life; that of shaping and nurturing another individual. And so I decided that I would put my business education and my corporate training of many years to good use and give myself a ‘mom-praisal’. My husband decided to play the part of objective third party since my boss was too young to conduct the appraisal and could not be trusted to not throw a tantrum or make ludicrous demands if things didn’t go her way, and we got started. I decided to give my mom-praisal the importance and structure it deserved and created a list of performance parameters against which I rated myself, borrowing generously from the many performance appraisals I had gone through in the corporate world. Here’s a quick peek at what my mom-praisal score card looked like:

1.Displaying a Sense of Urgency:
This is one area where I score hands down, even though it would not be entirely untrue to say that my performance on this parameter is driven more out of fear of failure than anything else. For my boss does not tolerate tardiness at any cost! From a dirty diaper to a demand for food, right from the early days of her birth, my daughter made it very clear that not displaying a sense of urgency when it came to her needs being met would mean retribution of the most severe kind: ear splitting shrieks and mutinous howls. Displaying a sense of urgency soon became second nature.

2.The ability to innovate and think out of the box:
Much as I’d like to gloss over my (many) shortcomings as a mom, this is one area where I’d have to admit defeat. For when it comes to parenting I’ve always found a sense of security in following the text book approach. Parenting tomes of all shapes and sizes occupy pride of place on every conceivable surface in our home now and everything ranging from a tantrum to a refusal to eat the midday snack sees me rushing to consult my trusty mommy manual. Definitely not an example of innovative thinking, though I must say I have invented a pretty nifty technique of speed reading my ‘What to Expect in the toddler years’ while simultaneously entertaining my daughter with a snazzy rendition of ‘Dorothy the Dinosaur’. The husband however is one of those dads who can think out of the box and make it look as easy as shelling peas, so there is hope for me yet!

3.Monitoring and communicating progress frequently:
Another area where I can proudly pat myself on the back. Right from my bai, to my daughter’s playschool teacher, to the hapless husband, to anyone else who cares to listen, I make it a point to update everyone with any semblance of progress. Right from the first utterance of a new word or a particularly complex sentence construction, to a tantrum free day, to successful trysts with the potty, all progress is painstakingly monitored and communicated. The bulk of these communication updates happen with the husband who is given a blow by blow account as soon as he walks through the door. Yes, this is one area where I think I deserve a notable mention or perhaps even some mommy accolades for exceeding performance benchmarks. The husband doesn’t seem particularly pleased about it though!

4.The ability to manage stress with ease:
Now this is a tough one because I am one of those people who tend to get stressed easily. And while I make sure I don’t let my sky rocketing stress levels get to my daughter (mostly), I don’t exactly handle it with ease either. My way out of a stressful situation is usually to stuff myself silly with the most calorie laden food I can get my hands on. Like the time I binged on a pizza the first time my daughter fell ill. Or the walnut brownie with fudge overdose to help me cope with the first day of school and having to let my baby go into the care of strangers for two whole hours. Or the innumerable bars of chocolate to soothe my frayed nerves before her first solo stage performance. I’m getting stressed just recalling all of these instances! Think I’ll just take a quick nibble of some chocolate to help deal with the, er, hunger.

5.Do I strive for constant self development?
Now this is something I haven’t thought about for a while. I’m always thinking about ‘developing’ my daughter, of course. Developing gross and fine motor skills and physical balance and co-ordination are routine playground conversations with other mums. I make a sincere effort to foster a love for reading and am working at developing her socializing skills since she has been displaying marked signs of having inherited the anti social gene from her mother. I try and bring on the creativity by getting the husband to spend time with her while I re-read my book on ‘how to foster creativity in your child’. So yes, I get full marks for trying when it comes to developing my daughter. But me? I guess I never really thought about me. I suppose I’m in a happier place than I was before since my daughter took over my life. I’ve finally become patient and selfless, qualities I always admired in others and sorely lacked myself. I’ve learned to stop, slow down and relax. More importantly, I’ve finally got my priorities right and figured out the things that really matter to me, and that’s made me feel more settled. So yes I guess I have managed some self development without consciously striving for it.

I’ve decided to make my mom-praisal a regular feature to ensure that I don’t stagnate as a mother. Maybe, when my daughter is older she can take over the appraising bit and give me some feedback to make me a better parent. Until then, I will have to make honest and brutal self assessment work for me, I suppose. I have to admit though, that unlike the often dreary appraisals from my corporate past, doing my mom-praisal was kind of fun. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that this time round I am hopelessly in love with my new boss!

Originally written for "The Punekar"

Manasi Vaidya, Author of "No Deadline For Love"

Monday, December 5, 2011

Break a leg!

Just popping in to tell you that my short story has appeared in the latest issue of Femina (the December 14 issue, with Asin on the cover)! I love Femina and I've been reading it since I was about nine (hi mom!). It started off as a covert love affair, with every new, minty fresh copy of Mummy's Femina as it used to be in those days, being surreptitiously smuggled into the loo where I'd spend a blissful twenty minutes or so lost between its covers, before my mom started hammering the door down. We lived in Moscow those days, in the erstwhile USSR, with trips to India being few and far between. Once every three months or so, we would get a goody bag of sorts from India, a tangible link to home, with VCR tapes of the latest Hindi movies, mangoes or sarson ka saag or kamal kakri depending on the season, various types of attas and pickles, copies of Champak and Tinkle and sometimes, Target for me and my sister, and a copy of Femina for my mom.

Safe from the ever alert eyes of my mother I would pore over every page of Femina, reading and re-reading articles that I particularly liked. The short stories often featured in it were a huge personal favorite and I still carry deep mental imprints of some of the stories that left a lasting impression, even though the paper clippings that I tried to preserve are long gone. So it was a huge honor when I got an e-mail from Femina asking me if I would like to contribute a short story for the magazine. Its a three part story titled 'Break a Leg' and it will appear in three consecutive issues of Femina starting with the Dec 14 one, so if you get a chance to read it, do please let me know what you think won't you?

In other news, my sister is down from the US for a couple of weeks and I've spent the last few days at my parents' gorging on my Mom's awesome Konkani dishes like batata song and matar chi amti and then spending the afternoons passed out in a food induced stupor, rousing myself only when Nikki, who is not one for afternoon naps, or really sleep of any kind, decided she would play 'horsey-horsey' with me as the horsey, or Red Indians and proceeded to send some eardrum splitting shrieks my way. My sister also got me a goody bag of a very different kind as a gift, and while this one didn't have the Tinkles and the Targets of yore, which I sometimes still miss, it did have a wonderful array of creams and lotions and body scrubs and what-have-you's which saw me spend the weekend steeped in Bath & Body Works bliss. And now its on to my favorite time of the year; family coming down from different parts of the globe, the festive season right around the corner, birthday and anniversary a few corners further down and then a big family wedding. This time I'm planning to go all out and introduce Nikki to Santa and his band of helpers. Rudolph is already a bit of a favorite in these parts ( I suspect it has something to do with the red nose). I'm getting us a tree and decorations and have plans for a traditional X-massy spread if I can manage it. Now all I need is a modern day, Johnny Depp look alike Santa to make the festive season really cheery. And you? How're you planning to ring the new year in?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

“Lingerie shopping is good for the soul”

Many years ago on an overcast Saturday afternoon, I found myself at one of those fancy foot spas that promise to take your worn-out, roughed-up, sandpaper-y feet and turn them all silken and velvety. I’d been gifted a voucher for the spa and since I was in the neighborhood for work anyway, I decided to squeeze in an hour of indulgent pampering before getting back to the grind. It had been a particularly trying week at work and I was glad to lose myself in the luxuriously plush surroundings of the spa for a while and switch off.

The interiors of the spa were divided into semi private enclosures which seated up to five women at a time and I found myself grouped with four other ladies, all engaged in an animated conversation. They got talking with me too as we waited for our respective therapists to show up and I discovered that they were sisters-in-law out for a weekend treat. During the course of the hour long ‘happy feet therapy’ as the spa manager put it, I got a fairly detailed look into the lives of the four ladies as they merrily chatted away. Apparently they were part of a large joint family which was strictly controlled by the father-in-law who ensured that he had a say in everything from the weekly menu to the household budget. With six growing children in the house, a busy kitchen to manage and a fairly hectic social schedule, life for the four ‘co-sisters’, as they referred to each other, was as full as it could possibly be and they often found that they had barely any time to spare for just themselves.

That’s when the eldest sister-in-law had come up with a brainwave; one that would allow the four ladies to step away from their roles as wives, mums and home makers for a bit and get some much needed me-time. Once in a while, whenever they could get a breather in their busy schedules, the ladies would head out together for an activity they all enjoyed: shopping, a trip to the spa or salon or just a relaxed meal at a restaurant. While the mother-in-law and their respective husbands were perfectly okay with this arrangement, the father-in-law didn’t particularly approve of what in his view were frivolous activities. And so, whenever time came for their occasional girls’ day out and they were questioned by the father-in-law, the ma-in-law would just inform him that they needed to go out for some ‘lingerie shopping’! That would naturally put an end to any further discussion and the ladies would enjoy their time off and get back to their routines, no questions asked!

“You know our father-in-law is actually a very nice person” the eldest sister-in-law who was seated right next to me confided “He is just a little old fashioned and given his age we don’t want to get into any direct confrontations with him. Our mother-in-law on the other hand is wonderfully supportive and luckily for us the four of us get along so famously that we have a readymade support system right at home. These occasional sessions really help us bond and rejuvenate and just forget the daily irritants of life for a while and we get back feeling so refreshed. Like I say, lingerie shopping is good for the soul!”

The ‘happy feet’ session ended soon after and bidding goodbye to the co-sisters, I tripped away on my barely recognizable, sparkling new feet, with these words ringing in my ears. In their own way, these four women had found a way to weave some fun into, what seemed to me, a fairly regimented life, by ensuring that they regularly took some time out for themselves. We’ve all read about the importance of ‘me-time’ but very few of us, yours truly included, actually make a conscious effort to make time for it. And yet I find that whenever I do make the effort and take some time out to ‘just be’, as a friend once put it, it makes a remarkable difference. I feel rejuvenated, more focused and often I find that this time helps me cope better with the day ahead.

And so for some time now, I have been making the effort to fit some ‘me-time’ into my routine as well. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant shopping trip or a trip to the spa; it could be as simple as getting some time to yourself in a busy day.
For one girl I know it is the half hour after the rushed morning routine has passed, and the husband and child have been packed off to office and school respectively. She brews herself some tea, puts her feet up and puts the rest of the world on hold for that half hour before heading to her own workplace. For another friend, a hot foot soak last thing at night is what helps her unwind.

I’ve been really lucky to have made some new ‘mommy friends’ since my daughter’s birth. Every once in a while, we leave our toddlers in the care of their baby sitters (dads!) and head off for a movie or brunch. And when the mommies or the baby sitters or both are not around, I like to get my alone time after everyone else in the house is either asleep or doing their own thing. I pull out my favorite treasure, a stash of much thumbed girlie magazines I’ve had since college and give myself up to an hour of bliss.

“Why are you reading that rubbish again?” asks the husband as he wanders past “Haven’t you given that stuff to the raddi chap yet?”

“No and I don’t intend to,” I reply, with (what I hope is) an enigmatic smile “because lingerie shopping is good for the soul!”

Originally written for "The Punekar"

Manasi Vaidya, Author of "No Deadline For Love"
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